Sea Power for a New Era
Washington, DC Date: 04.03.07
Speakers: Admiral Michael Mullen, Carlos Pascual
The Brookings Institution hosts Admiral Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations, for a discussion of the U.S. Navy's efforts to draft a new maritime strategy and prepare for the challenges of the twenty-first century. In his almost forty years of service, Adm. Mullen has witnessed the transformation of U.S. naval forces, and has in recent years been its principal agent of change. He once said, "Without mastery of the sea - without sea power - we cannot protect trade, we cannot help those in peril, we cannot provide relief from natural disaster, and we cannot intercede when whole societies are torn asunder by slavery, weapons of mass destruction, drugs, and piracy."
Carlos Pascual, vice president and director of Brookings's Foreign Policy Studies program, provides introductory remarks and moderates the discussion.
Carlos Pascual: Good afternoon. My name is Carlos Pascual. I'm the vice president and director of the Foreign Policies Studies Program here at the Brookings Institution. It's a great pleasure to welcome you to the event that we're having today on Sea Power for a New Era with ADM Michael Mullen. This event is being jointly sponsored by the Foreign Policy Studies Program and the 21st Century Defense Initiative here at Brookings. The director of that initiative, Peter Singer, is up here in front and has been part of Brookings' efforts to think about not only the security challenges that we face today but how those security challenges will evolve over time and how the United States needs to position itself for those, and position itself, as well, with its allies and different capabilities, both military and civilian. In that context, we have the opportunity to have address us today Admiral Michael Mullen. ADM Mullen is the 28th Chief of Naval Operations. He has been with the U.S. Navy since the time he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He served the country in the Navy for 40 years. In addition to his time at the Naval Academy, he has graduate degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School and from Harvard Business School. He has had a number of command responsibilities in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, including in his last command where he was Commander of the Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy, and Commander -- concurrently with that, with the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe where he had operational control of NATO missions in the Balkans, Iraq, and in the Mediterranean. One of the things that ADM Mullen has really stood for is to really assess the challenges that are presented to us in a security field and the changes that they actually require us to develop in both capabilities and strategy, and in that he has been challenging the Navy itself to come up with more effective strategies and approaches, thinking ahead to the future, and in that sense he has been a forward-looking leader who is willing to ask the tough questions about where we need to go in our defense capabilities, particularly taking into account the kinds of irregular threats that we face today and the complications that they actually then present for us. In that spirit, one of the things that I would then like to do is just hand over to the admiral and ask him to give us his views of what the Navy needs to do to be able to deal with the kinds of major challenges that we face today and assess what the implications of those challenges are but, actually, to also look ahead as well and help us think through what we need to do to adapt ourselves to be able to maintain the kind of excellence and capabilities on both the preventive and responsive side that we've developed thus far. So, in that spirit, ADM Mullen, I'll turn it over to you.
Admiral Michael Mullen: Well, thank you. It is a real pleasure to be with you this afternoon, and I hope over the next few minutes I can illuminate some of the things that Carlos indicated. We live in an ordinarily challenging time. I'd like to talk about this briefly in two areas. One is the Navy today and what we're doing, and when I travel, particularly as I go around the world and visit sailors who are serving, I try to focus on a couple of things with them. One is gratitude for their service and that they really are making a difference, and they're an exceptional group of young men and women who have raised their hand to serve their country at a particularly challenging time. I won't comment on the number of years I've been in -- Carlos have covered that -- but certainly in the time I've been around, they are the most professional, best led force that I've had the pleasure of being with, and I'm grateful for all they do. Secondly -- that we live in a tremendous time of change, and I think that's a statement of the obvious, but what has gripped me in the last year and a half or so is the pace of that change and then how do we keep pace with that change in a very uncertain world in very uncertain times? And it's a spectrum of change that covers everything from tactical operations to strategic thought and strategic direction. It covers career paths; how we develop people for the future; how do we recruit them; how do we retain them; what skills do we need; what is our work force; what do the sailors who make up the Navy of the future look like? I'm oftentimes -- and I talk about inside the Navy, in particular the imperative that I believe we have as an institution to be a more diverse Navy than we are right now, and just look at the demographics that we have today in its -- and the growing population from many, many ethnic backgrounds that in 20, 30 years will in fact be the majority in this country and that the Navy needs to have a leadership cadre which is representative of that, and that diversity is really important, because I believe the if we don't have that we move away from our population as a country and don't represent the country that we stand for in ways that we truly need to do. Secondly, and it's about missions of the future, those demographics and that diversity is incredibly important in terms of where we will go, what we will do, cultures we will engage with in the security environment in the future. So, that's -- that, again -- this is an area, I think, of great -- of both priority and great change as well. And then the third piece I talk to young people about is just the need to lead, and the expectation at almost every level that we lead -- whether it's United States as a country, the Navy as one of the navies in the world, and/or individuals who lead in the Navy. So, those are -- that's how I tried to frame the discussion of both where we are now and where we must go in the future. Where we are now is a Navy in really terrific shape. Many of you may remember President Reagan's goal of 600 ships. Well -- and many people thought we got there. We didn't quite get there. We fell a few ships short. But today we're half that size. We're 276 ships today, and we are a maritime nation underpinned by commerce, incredibly dependent on secure sea lines of communication, a secure maritime environment, and a Navy that is supportive of that. We operate today around the world. I've got over 60,000, almost 65,000 sailors deployed around the world today. Over 30,000 of those are deployed to the central command AOR, so over half are likewise deployed in other parts of the world whether it be in South America, in the Western Pacific, in the Indian Ocean, in the Mediterranean, off the Coast of Africa, and in some places that we hadn't imagined we would be, and I think that speaks to preparing for the future as well and doing so in what I call a balanced fashion, because I don't think in this unpredictable world we can figure out exactly where we're going to be or exactly what's going to happen. Out of those 30,000 sailors that are in Central Command -- and we have two carrier strike groups there as we speak, but I've got -- almost half of those are ashore in the Central Command: over 5,000 sailors on the ground in Iraq; 1500 or so on the ground in Afghanistan; several hundred in Djibouti; and a couple thousand who are home ported in Bahrain. All of that speaks to, I think, the message that that continues to be a vital part of the world for us, a vital strategic interest, and the Navy's had a relationship in that part of that world -- we've been deployed there since the late '40s, and so we will continue, I think, long after the challenges that we have right -- the immediate challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan. We will continue to be deployed there. In addition to the operations which we are performing in support of the ground forces -- and we've had some pretty significant impacts there -- we clearly still operate at sea, and the vital resources that are in that part of the world, the security that we need, the stability that we need are very important and well supported, not just by the naval forces that are there but are there with the Marine Corps, and there are some members of the Coast Guard here as well, and we've got strong relationships with both those services in addition to sort of extending to this joint world that we're in, much more joint than we were a few years ago, and I think we will continue to advance the jointness that's out there, the ability to work and, really, the requirement to work with all the other services. So, the Navy's very busy right now. They're the best people I've ever seen. Our retention numbers are good. Our recruiting numbers are good. And, yet, I recognize that the recruiting challenge will continue to go up. I'm concerned, as a service chief, as I see the propensity to serve in the country as we are out and about. The propensity to serve is not what it was a few years ago, and I think to some degree that's obviously because of the war that we're in right now. So, the challenge is fairly significant with respect to that. And we're going to need to make sure we get that right for the future as well. We also find ourselves right now at a time where we're retiring a lot of the old equipment that we bought in the '80s and replacing ships and airplanes and submarines with the latest capabilities that are being developed, and the Navy is nothing if it doesn't have ships and submarines and airplanes. That's the core of who we are, and so we're evolving right now and bringing many new programs online in terms of the Navy that we need for the future -- I'm excited about that -- at a time where that kind of change is difficult and that kind of investment is particularly challenging as well. I have -- so, right now -- and we operate at a very high level. We execute at a very high level, and I'm confident whether it's ground operations in Iraq, ground operations in Afghanistan, the kind of operations that we are performing on the Horn of Africa, ashore there, which I believe is truly a footprint for engagement in a part of the world that if we don't do that well, if we extract ourselves from that, it's fertile ground for the continued development of the kind of terrorist activity that we're seeing in many places in the world. That kind of engagement is really vital as well. So, we're engaged in many theaters around the world, not only the Central Command, although it certainly has our focus. So, what about the future? The future, I think -- and Carlos talked about a new era -- I really believe we are in a new era, that we have gone through that membrane, if you will, of what used to be, and we are now looking at severe, significant challenges in the future and leading them clearly is the issue of the extreme radical Islamists, and I think that's going to be around for some time. And we've talked about this being a long war. I think it's going to be -- it is a generational war, and it isn't going to end soon, and we need to stay focused on that and press forward on that. I've tried to couch the future discussion, and I've looked at it over many months now, is what are we going to do after Iraq? What are we going to do after Afghanistan? And I truly believe we will bring those forces home. I'm not standing here today to predict exactly when that will occur. I think we need to do that very carefully when it does occur. I believe that we cannot have the Middle East and Southwest Asia turn into a cauldron of expanding violence, and somehow we've got to make sure that as we come home that we don't leave it, because I think if we do that it won't be that long before we'll go back. So, clearly, that's a focus area, but it's not just about that part of the world right now. We've got multiple challenges in many, many domains and many, many theaters. Now, I call the seas the -- one of the terms that we use is "global commons." They're a part of the connective tissues of nations, and we are a maritime nation. I talked -- about 18 months ago I made a speech up in Newport at an international sea power symposium and talked about this idea of a thousand-ship navy; and we had 72 countries represented there, 49 chiefs of navies and coast guards from around the world, and this idea -- this concept of a fleet in being that focuses on global partnerships, recognizing common challenges -- has taken on a tremendous amount of both energy and interest and activity throughout the world, more so than I realized that it would, whether it's in the Mediterranean, whether it's Indonesia and Malaysia and that part of the world, or whether it's in Africa. There have been several symposiums since this was brought up, several maritime symposiums in Africa, which heretofore had not occurred, and as was mentioned in the introduction, I spent about seven months in Italy, and part of my focus wasn't only the Balkans and Iraq, but it was to look south in Africa, and there's a great potential there for lots of things to happen, both good and bad. It's an area that is struggling in some ways in terms of stable governments. It's an area that has famine, it has resources; and it's an area with a large maritime coast that hasn't had the focus in the past. So, we've been heavily engaged there, for example. So, this whole idea of a thousand-ship navy-- how do we work together -- which honors territorial waters, creates global time partnerships, gets at what I believe is we can't do this alone -- the United States can't do this alone in the future -- and we need partners to do this. It leverages what we do as men and women that go to sea. We understand that domain. It's not bound by an organization or a charter or a treaty. The membership is essentially voluntary, and we have found a tremendous amount of desire to figure out how to make this work in the future. And it gets at essentially creating a secure maritime environment. There are many challenges out there. Some of them that get focused on can be weapons or weapons of mass destruction, and a lot of that travels by the sea. Ninety percent of what moves around the world moves by the sea, and when it's quiet, when it's going well, not many people pay attention, but when you disrupt it, it has a huge impact and it's not local, it's not many times even regional these days. It has a global impact. And there's about a one- to two-trillion-dollar illegal economy that's running out there, and there are many countries that can't get at the issues of immigration or fisheries violations or slavery or drug movement in addition to the other maladies that are occurring across the seas. And so there's great interest in how to work together to try to do this. To give you an example of this thousand-ship navy, I oftentimes call it a free-form force. We had not planned to evacuate citizens out of Lebanon last year, and yet when the requirement was there, navies -- many of them, 17 of them or so -- showed up, got organized, and successfully evacuated those citizens. We clearly had no plan for the Tsunami response, the tragedy which occurred in Bonda Aceh, Indonesia and that part of the world when, again, we had -- we organized an infrastructure at sea from many nations, essentially contributed the kind of assistance that we did, and then when we were done we were able to disaggregate. A very important part of that, though, was we went back to Bonda Aceh last year. We went back with the hospital ship by the name of MERCY, and we went back because it's a very important part of the world to us to engage and to continue to have an impact, and saw over 61,000 patients in Bangladesh, in Indonesia, and in the Philippines. So, our mission set is expanding in ways that we hadn't imagined just a few years ago. We're going to do the same thing this year by sending the hospital ship COMFORT, which is based out of Baltimore, down to South America for a period of time, and we think these missions speak to a broader mission set, an engagement requirement in a relationship-building aspect that we need to pay a lot of attention to in the future with the uncertainty that's out there. So, we find in these kinds of operations that we did last summer on MERCY -- we had 11 NGOs that we were engaged with, and I had enough experience in the Balkans to know that engaging NGOs once you're on the battlefield is not the best place to start the relationship. Having a relationship ahead of time is really key, and there's great interest in that, and more NGOs will join us for this deployment later on this year by COMFORT. But it doesn't just have to be hospital ships. It can be our grey hulls, and we'll send one to west coast of Africa in the same kind of humanitarian mission later on this year and one out to the Western Pacific. And that is not to say that we aren't focused on our high-end Navy, our carrier strike groups, and the capability that has served us as a nation so well for so long, because we are. In fact, I would argue that the mission set in the future is expanding; it's not contracting. We've set up a brand new command in the Navy called the Expeditionary Combat Command, essentially 30 to 40,000 sailors that are involved in missions that we see being executed and some the creation of a new command. We just last month deployed our first Riverine Squadron since Vietnam, and we think that in the near term it will provide security in Iraq on the rivers that are there. In the long term, we think it's an important engagement capability that can get into shallower waters, so in fact we're not the blue water Navy we used to be; we need to cover the full spectrum of waters that are out there, and it gets back to relationship building and the security domain and the challenges that many countries have. And, again, this isn't about the United States. This is about capabilities we have, relationships that we are building, and the desire to help when invited, when asked in, and at this point we see an awful lot of support with respect to that kind of engagement and relationship. When I think about things after Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm reminded that we still have challenges out there associated with some of our classic capabilities. We need to make sure we have our undersea warfare, our antisubmarine warfare capability, our mine warfare capability, our striking capability. We need to invest ourselves heavily. I talked about the connective tissue of the global commons that the seas are. Other connective tissues clearly are the air space people fly in and the cyber space in which we all now operate and to make sure we have that right as well and we're focused on that. The Navy has a mobile missile defense capability. It's a great strength of the Navy, because we are mobile. We don't have to ask permission to go in certain places of the world, and so if the President needs us he can move us around in certain environments. So, having that missile defense capability, which is evolving over time, is also a very important one to stay focused on and to continue to evolve and invest in. Just if I were to look at what's happened in the last year -- the emergence of the Chinese, the emergence of the Chinese navy in particular, is a very important development, and we have had Navy ships stationed in the Western Pacific with our good friends, the Japanese, for many years, and we will continue to do that. Stability in that part of the world is also very important, and the Chinese have a significant investment in their navy in the future, and the peaceful rise of China will benefit us all. We're very much linked to them economically. I think everybody understands that, and we are working to understand both the strategic intent with respect to that investment in their navy and to develop relationships which will sustain clarity and not put us in a position to miscalculate or misunderstand each other -- and continuing, it won't be in the too distant future that I travel to both India and Pakistan, again two other countries that are very important in the future of the world and engage with the leaders of their navies, as an example. What occurred in North Korea last year, clearly what's going on in Iran, literally as we speak today, with the seizing of the 15 British hostages last week is of great concern and bespeaks the question of where Iran is headed and what is our relationship going to be and what is our posture with respect to where they are and where they're headed. The continuing challenge that I mentioned earlier about the war that I think we're going to be in for 10, 20, 30 years and the evolutions -- even the development of what's going on south of us. It's my own experience we don't do North and South America really well. We don't look south very well, and yet clearly with what's going on in Venezuela right now and the alignment of some of the other countries down there in terms of what the potential is, and it's very much resource based, because there is a significant amount of oil resources that are available there as well. And then there's the reemerging Russia underpinned, again, by resources and a question of where are they going and with many of these -- Russia in particular -- I would like to have a strategic relationship with them and an understanding and a partnership with them rather than have it go the other way and turn into a position where we again are enemies of each other. And I need that relationship to impact on other parts of the world as well. So, the strategic landscape, as I see it, is incredibly challenging in the future. And then it comes to when the troops come home I think it's very important that the Navy and the Marine Corps, as a national security instrument of this country, be out and about. I've talked with Jim Conway, who's the Commandant of the Marine Corps, at great length about this, and the way I phrase it is, "Welcome back aboard, let's get underway and go to sea." The Navy and Marine Corps has, for our entire existence, been out on the edges of where we need to go throughout the world, had relationships. It's a great strength for the country, great capability, and it gets back to these expanding missions in what I consider to be this very, very dangerous world. More and more people are moving to the shore throughout the world. Some statistics -- on the order of about 80 percent of the people in the world live within a couple hundred miles of the sea or of a major body of water. It's getting to be a smaller world, more and more interdependent, and so the continuous engagement in that, the strength that a secure maritime domain brings to everybody and the ability for -- one of the ways I like to describe it is for parents to raise their children to a higher standard of living, give them a better future than the one they had. And I've seen that -- saw it in places all over the world. Whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or the Balkans or Indonesia or Malaysia or other places in the Western Pacific, it is a common underpinning desire of parents throughout the world, and so providing a secure environment with many other nations, with partners, is a big part of our future. We clearly have some significant challenges in building the Fleet for the future, trying to get -- basically I have got a plan to build a Navy of about 313 ships. I indicated we're 276 today. That's too small. We've invested an awful lot in defense in these recent years and so how do we get that right, and I think we need to be very cautious about where the resources go in the future in terms of investing in the security, given the dangerous world that we live in, and I've been in the budget world in Washington long enough to know that these things go in cycles and that we have to understand and take those risks very, very carefully. So, there are many challenges for us. It's a very joint world in the future. It's clearly we're at a time where the ground forces are pressed hard and the Navy and the Air Force right now represent what I consider to be the strategic reserve for the country. If we've got a problem in some other part of the world, it's really dependent on the Navy and the Air Force to get there, based on what the problem is, to get there and be able to respond. But rather than just responding, the Navy and the Marine Corps, the expeditionary forces of this country, provide a deterrence and a preventative capability that is really vital, not just now but in the future, and, again, being unpredictable in terms of what the future looks like, having a balanced portfolio, a balanced capability, not just across one service but across all our services, is really vital. So, I appreciate you being here. I appreciate your engagement on this. There are no precisely clear answers on what we should do. We need to understand the risks that are out there. The world that I both live in and travel in is a very, very tough, dangerous world, and we need to, from a security standpoint, be very careful about how we handle this national security asset called the United States Navy. Thank you.